swimming to wellness
interview By: Fela M'tima
Fela: Hi Laura, tell me about yourself, age, where you’re from, and what diseases you battle?
Laura: I’m 21, I’m from Tallahassee, Florida. I battle endometriosis, chronic migraines, chronic pain (I’ll throw arthritis in there, even though it’s not just arthritis), and IBS. As well as mental health issues.
Fela: How are you managing having more than one illness? Especially on days when you have multiple flare ups?
Laura: Having this many issues has made school and work virtually impossible. I’ve been out of school for three and a half years now and I am unemployed because when I have multiple flares, I do just need to lie in bed and marathon shows and sleep for 12 hours. The benefit of not having school or work is that I can do that without stressing about what I’m missing and how people are going to deal with how much I have to miss, but it’s hard. Its taken years to be at peace with the fact that I have to pause life frequently so that I can handle the rest of life. Many people in my life haven’t been okay with this and sometimes I’ve just had to let them go or ignore what they say.
F: My partner in Endotwins, Autumn, battles chronic migraines too. What are some things you’d recommend for the combo of migraines and other illnesses? Does anything help you?
L: I’m actually lucky enough to have a local AO certified chiropractor. He treats my neck in a way that took me from 15-20 headaches days a month to one or two. He also does massage therapy which has been a major life saver. Another thing that I do a lot is detox soaks (Epsom salts, essential oils, and what not). They help with the chronic pain from all of my other conditions and are cheaper than getting a massage!
F: Oh, I’m sure! How as endometriosis specifically changed your life?
L: Endometriosis has taken a lot of time from me. My symptoms were really bad. When I get my period I usually spend the first two days doing little else besides vomiting and crying. Several times the only food I can eat is lettuce or really greasy pizza (which then exacerbates other issues since I’m allergic to dairy.) I couldn’t swim, I couldn’t do homework, I couldn’t really even move. After the first two days I could move, but I would walk everywhere hunched over with cramps and in severe pain.
F: How do you handle these ups and downs emotionally?
L: Because of my mental illnesses I’ve been through a lot of intensive therapy and that has helped me a lot with all the things that run through your mind when you are diagnosed with any serious or chronic illness. I have so many questions that can’t be answered but I’m a lot more successful at telling myself to let it go until it can be answered. I also take a lot of baths, give myself facials, and watch way too much anime. It’s easier said then done and I definitely don’t succeed all the time.
F: Self care is so important for women with these chronic illnesses, so that’s amazing that you take care of yourself when you can. Tell me about your fitness and how you got into it? How does it help with your chronic illnesses?
L: Towards the end of my best season, I finally got pushed out due to injures that eventually led to me having arthritis and my endometriosis. For a few years I still didn’t have any treatment so I couldn’t return to swimming. I also was put on depo and steadily gained weight. Now that I have treatment, I’ve worked very, very hard on developing a work out regimen that allows me to work around my chronic pain and that is easy to get back into when I have to take down time for my health.
F: Tell me about what you mean by “best season”?
L: The best season was when I was 14, I came close to breaking some world records in distance swimming in practice and was about to compete in long distance for the first time when I had surgery that ended my season and chronic pain and injuries kept me from coming back. With all the hard work I’ve put in, I’m now going to be joining a swim team next month and start training for competitions again. My dream is to swim long distance in the Olympics. It’s a different journey then many people take, and it’s much slower. I can’t hold myself to something like “never skip Monday’s” or getting up at 6 am to workout. Sometimes I have to take three days off in a row until my body can handle training again.
F: Wow, that’s incredible. Tell me more about your journey with swimming while also having these illnesses.
L: So I started swimming competitively when I was four. I did other things like dance and tennis as well but swimming was what I loved and stuck with. When I reached puberty and started encountering endometriosis and chronic pain, I had a hard time keeping up. I had to miss practice for a week at a time for my periods and my body wouldn’t move right with the chronic pain. Two hour practices just weren’t possible for me when I didn’t have any treatment.
F: Are you able to take any medicine to help with chronic pain?
L: I’ve been prescribed a narcotic I’m supposed to take every time I have my period so that hopefully I won’t vomit and cry, but I can’t take narcotics because of the IBS and I also worry about addiction, which runs in my family. So, even if I could take them I wouldn’t. Just another aspect of living with multiple chronic illnesses.
F: What would be your biggest advice to those who enjoy fitness and also battle chronic diseases?
L: In terms of helping my health and chronic illnesses, getting some of the weight off has been hugely beneficial. I’ve lost over 10 pounds of my depo weight and I feel wonderful for that. It’s also given me a sense of purpose and something I can do despite my illnesses. Never underestimate how much a lack of purpose can hurt a person. Now I get up and do workouts I’ve written for myself and see progress in my body. It’s the highlight of my life now. Also for me the key was to accept that I’m making progress, even if it’s slow, and to not expect myself to do what was once easy right away. I can’t judge myself by a healthy person’s progress and there are some things that I will never be able to do again unless they develop new treatments to treat some of my health issues, and that has to be okay. I can do another things instead. Plus, it’s fun to get into all the research of exercises and recovery, it gives me something to do.
F: Amazing, girl! I want you to know that you are so inspiring and I really wish you the best with getting back into swimming, so glad we had the chance to speak.
L: Me too!! Becoming chronically ill unmade me, and I couldn’t put myself back together exactly the way I was. But I took all of me and put them together in a new way where I still have a purpose and a function. It’s a beautiful thing I could only have experienced by being sick and I think I’m better for it.
F: That was so beautifully said. I feel that all of us battling these diseases have to put ourselves back together and we ARE better for it.
L: On a personal note, your charity mission gives me so much hope. My pain is so bad that I will have to have my uterus removed eventually, and doctors have been pressuring me to marry young and have kids before I’m ready so that I can have them at all. No one ever talked to me about freezing my eggs and I’ve cried so many times over not being ready to have kids yet possibly meaning I will never have a biological child. So your charity idea is amazing and I wish you the best with it.
F: That means so much, Laura, you have no idea. Thank you!! That is exactly why we are doing it!! You are such a joy, all your words really brought me to tears and reminded me why I wanted to start Endotwins.
L: You’re making me blush so much! You’re so sweet! I’m glad you did!